All the people of Bangkok, it seemed, woke up on Wednesday, threw on their Liverpool jerseys, picked out their Liverpool scarves, and headed with a single-minded determination to the Rajamangala Stadium hours before Liverpool’s match with the Thai national team. I’m pretty sure if I had ventured out while the match was on, the city that always appeared to be on the move would have featured deserted streets, empty cars, restaurants with no business going, and pin-drop silence everywhere except in the immediate vicinity of Carra, Nando, Rafa and Javi. Swine flu may be the latest disease to cause paranoia in Bangkok, but for the moment, it was football fever running rampant. Hand sanitizers and face masks were shoved on by the security personnel at the entrance, and once you dodged that, it was time to find a way to get inside. Even at 4, four hours before kick-off, fans were crowded outside, trying to get in, and many hundreds had already taken their seats and begun the wait. The Kop stand filled up the quickest, with a sea of red with an asssortment of flags, banners and many exhortations requesting Xabi Alonso to continue his career at Anfield. They probably weren’t encouraged by his absence from the teamlist and the bench, but Rafa tried to put an end to the speculation by saying he and Benyoun were injured. It probably didn’t work, and I’m certain the rumours have got another piece of evidence.
I also had a long wait to get past, but looking around me at all the Liverpool love was great. The only thing that I could’ve done without were the two very enthusiastic Thai DJs spinning some terrible electro-techno-hiphop-mishmash excuse for music, over and over again. But those too were forgotten, as a professional opera-like rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone was followed by a few Beatles numbers. Quite a nice backdrop to the warm-up going on on the field below.
The match itself, well, you know it by now 1-1, and two completely different Liverpool teams played both halves (with the exception of Babel, who played a bit of the second half). Babel scored early and threatened a couple more times, but it was the Torres effect that was fascinating to watch. He had just ten minutes to get Liverpool a winner, and man he tried. With his first touch, he tore open the defence and raced away to goal, but missed. He was in the mix again a few more times, and the liveliest on the pitch by far, compared to all who had been on the pitch since the opening whiste. If only he can stay relatively injury-free this season, Torres can easily get another bagful of goals. Babel could do with a bit more consistency, Carra was his usual rock-solid self, and even had a hand in the first of Liverpool’s pre-season goals, the other kids had their sloppy moments, but Insua wasn’t bad. Hopefully Skrtel and El Zhar will pick themselves up soon.
Now all we can do is wait for the real games to begin.